Champions League Group Stage • Paris Saint-Germain FC-AC Milan: Clash of the Keepers

Milan's trip to Paris on Wednesday highlights one of the most dramatic transfer sagas of the post-Berlusconi era. After years of being financially and emotionally blackmailed by Gigio Donnarumma's former agent, Maldini and Massara quietly signed Lille's goalkeeper, Mike Maignan, in the ultimate gangster sporting director move. Donnarumma infamously went to Paris Saint-Germain, where our old friend former player former scout former coach traitorous former Inter coach former sporting director Leonardo was spending other people's money. Again. Ironically, Maignan had come through PSG's youth sector and began his career there, so it was almost a swap. Given the two club's fortunes since, most Milan fans would likely agree we got the better deal. But on Wednesday, there will be 90 minutes to test that theory on the pitch in this, the Clash of the Keepers.

Maignan goes home to prove himself in a must-win match.

While goalkeepers may be the first clash that comes to mind, this fixture is almost a Derby, there are so many ties between the two clubs. Yacine Adli also came through the academy and began his professional career with PSG, and Alessandro Florenzi spent a year on loan there before he joined Milan. Theo Hernández's brother, Lucas, plays for PSG, so they could face each other for the first time ever competitively, which I am sure will be emotional for them. Then there is the former Inter player, Milan Škriniar, for which there is no love lost from actual Milan Derbies. And last but not least, there is the surreal childhood Milan fan, Kylian Mbappé, who still plays for PSG as of this writing (but only because no one could afford to take him in the summer transfer window.)

Theo and Lucas have never faced off competitively... until now?

PSG come into this match sitting in second place in the so-called "group of death" in the Champions League. Behind Newcastle, who beat them 4-1 in their last match. In Ligue 1, they sit behind Monaco and Nice in third place on the table. Their most recent match was a 3-0 win over Strasbourg on Saturday. For that match, Luis Enrique lined up: Donnarumma; Soler, Marquinhos, Danilo, Lucas Hernández; Fabián Ruiz, Vitinha; Kang-in Lee, Barcola; Ramos, Mbappé. He will be missing at least three players to injury as of this writing: Zaïre-Emery, Marco Asensio, and Nuno Mendes, who are all part of his Champions League squad.

Pioli also has a number of players from his Champions League squad missing to injury. Still out, of course are Bennacer and Caldara long-term, and new injuries to Chukwueze and Sportiello will see them miss this one as well. It was hoped that Loftus-Cheek would recover in time for this one, but he did not train with the team on Tuesday, so will not even travel to Paris. Okafor is also suffering from muscle fatigue and will not be available, and it is unclear at this time whether or not Bartesaghi will be available after his ankle problem this weekend.

The criticism of Leão is ramping up again, with Sacchi doubling down on his comments, as if he's the only attacker.

Thiaw may have been frustratingly sent off on Sunday in Milan's 1-0 loss to Juve, which knocked Milan down to second in Serie A. But Thiaw will be available on Wednesday, as will Theo Hernández and Maignan, both of whom had been suspended for that match. Reportedly, Pioli plans to start his normal starters, with only two or three positions in doubt: whether to start Adli or Krunić and also whether to start Pobega or Musah in midfield. Despite Krunić just returning from injury and having an unfortunate return on Sunday, and Pobega's unpopularity with fans, those two tend to be Pioli's favorites. The final question surrounds whether or not to start Kalulu or Calabria at right back. Pioli may want to save Calabria for Napoli on Sunday, given the way he nullified Kvaratskhelia last season.

But the two players who seem to be drawing so much interest ahead of this match are the starting goalkeepers. Milan have been very happy with Maignan, who signed for a mere 25% of Donnarumma's wages at PSG and no ridiculous agent demands. Even with the numerous injuries, he has made an impact not only in shotstopping and building up play, but as an important leader in the squad. Winning the Scudetto and going to the Champions League semifinal, as well as being recognized at the Ballon d'Or awards last year when his predecessor was not even nominated backs up Milan fans' satisfaction with Maignan as our number one. In fact, most Milan fans have amnesia when it comes to having ever had any other goalkeeper, he is that good. But Maignan has admitted that he may go back to PSG someday.

Adli also going home to PSG, but will Pioli give him a starting spot?

Donnarumma had a very rough first year at PSG, struggling for time with veteran Keylor Navas. Even though he has now secured the starting position, he has become known for making significant gaffes in important matches. Perhaps it is from being given so much pressure from such a young age, or perhaps it is due to all of the mental stress from the Milan fans and his controversial transfer to Paris, but Donnarumma does not seem to be as strong or consistent as he was at Milan, the club of his heart. Enzo Raiola spoke out today about the transfer, acting like they were the victims, because after years of negotiations, to have not resolved his contract with only five weeks left, they seem surprised when Milan said they had found another goalkeeper. Maldini later spoke about the difficulty in this day and age of being a bandiera, but agents who hold clubs hostage in endless negotiations with unreasonable demands are not victims, nor are their clients. 

Donnarumma paid for his initial decision with bench time, but his form hasn't always been ideal since, either.

Both goalkeepers face formidable strikers, with Giroud being France's all-time top goal scorer, and Mbappé to be France's all-time top goal scorer sooner rather than later (and ironically, both are Maignan's France teammates as well.) Both teams need goals, so something has to give, and this group is incredibly unpredictable. Will it be decided by the defensive tactics of two brothers, facing one another for the first time? Or will a former player get the best of their old club, playing for their new side? Or, will all of these crazy connections just nullify each other into yet another draw for Milan? With Milan sitting in third place in the group with only two points, even a draw is something that the Rossoneri cannot afford if we are to progress out of Group F. 

While most fans greeted the approved 2022-23 budget this week with enthusiasm, the Champions League revenue was the biggest reason for both the record revenue and profit, including increases in ticket sales and television rights income on top of the monies from UEFA. That does not continue if Milan crash out of the group stage this season. Milan spent a lot more in transfer fees this year, are paying more in wages now for fewer players, and are looking to renew Theo and Maignan with larger salaries (or possibly lose them, as well as other key players.) None of those things are affordable without significant Champions League revenue. 

What PSG may not realize is that not only is Giroud a scoring threat, he is our secret GK, too.

That is why this match is not just another midweek match. Every group stage match carries even more weight than last season, with the future of many players and the success of the club at stake. PSG are likely in a similar situation, with changes they have made as well. And no one will feel that pressure more than the two goalkeepers. Because when a goalkeeper makes an error, it can cost their team the game. And for these two goalkeepers, there is history. This is family for both of them. Not quite like Theo and Lucas are family, but still family. So this one is the Clash of the Keepers.

This post inspired by the music of U2's "Drowning Man"

Our next Primavera match is 
UEFA Youth League Group Stage
Paris Saint-Germain FC U19 vs. AC Milan Primavera 
Wednesday, October 25, 2023 • 14:00 CEST (8am EDT)
Check the official Milan app and accounts for how to view this match

Our next match is 
Champions League Group Stage
Paris Saint-Germain FC vs. AC Milan 
Wednesday, October 25, 2023 • 21:00 CEST (3pm EDT)
In the U.S., you can use a VPN to access a Champions League provider elsewhere*
(*one that does not also sponsor Inter's kits)

Champions League Group Stage • Paris Saint-Germain FC-AC Milan: Clash of the Keepers Champions League Group Stage • Paris Saint-Germain FC-AC Milan: Clash of the Keepers Reviewed by Elaine on 1:30 PM Rating: 5
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